The Pardon Of Becky Day by John
The missionary was young and she was from the North. Her brows were
straight, her nose was rather high, and her eyes were clear and gray.
The upper lip of her little mouth was so short that the teeth just under
it were never quite concealed. It was the mouth of a child and it gave
the face, with all its strength and high purpose, a peculiar pathos that
no soul in that little mountain town had the power to see or feel. A
yellow mule was hitched to the rickety fence in front of her and she
stood on the stoop of a little white frame-house with an elm switch
between her teeth and gloves on her hands, which were white and looked
strong. The mule wore a man's saddle, but no matter—the streets were
full of yellow pools, the mud was ankle-deep, and she was on her way to
the sick-bed of Becky Day.
There was a flood that morning. All the preceding day the rains had
drenched the high slopes unceasingly. That night, the rain-clear forks
of the Kentucky got yellow and rose high, and now they crashed together
around the town and, after a heaving conflict, started the river on one
quivering, majestic sweep to the sea.
Nobody gave heed that the girl rode a mule or that the saddle was not
her own, and both facts she herself quickly forgot. This half log, half
frame house on a corner had stood a siege once. She could yet see bullet
holes about the door. Through this window, a revenue officer from the
Blue Grass had got a bullet in the shoulder from a garden in the rear.
Standing in the post-office door only just one month before, she herself
had seen children scurrying like rabbits through the back-yard fences,
men running silently here and there, men dodging into doorways, fire
flashing in the street and from every house—and not a sound but the
crack of pistol and Winchester; for the mountain men deal death in all
the terrible silence of death. And now a preacher with a long scar
across his forehead had come to the one little church in the place and
the fervor of religion was struggling with feudal hate for possession of
the town. To the girl, who saw a symbol in every mood of the earth, the
passions of these primitive people were like the treacherous streams of
the uplands—now quiet as sunny skies and now clashing together with but
little less fury and with much more noise. And the roar of the flood
above the wind that late afternoon was the wrath of the Father, that
with the peace of the Son so long on earth, such things still could be.
Once more trouble was threatening and that day even she knew that
trouble might come, but she rode without fear, for she went when and
where she pleased as any woman can, throughout the Cumberland, without
insult or harm.
At the end of the street were two houses that seemed to front each other
with unmistakable enmity. In them were two men who had wounded each
other only the day before, and who that day would lead the factions, if
the old feud broke loose again. One house was close to the frothing hem
of the flood—a log-hut with a shed of rough boards for a kitchen—the
home of Becky Day.
The other was across the way and was framed and smartly painted. On the
steps sat a woman with her head bare and her hands under her
apron—widow of the Marcum whose death from a bullet one month before
had broken the long truce of the feud. A groaning curse was growled from
the window as the girl drew near, and she knew it came from a wounded
Marcum who had lately come back from the West to avenge his brother's
"Why don't you go over to see your neighbor?" The girl's clear eyes gave
no hint that she knew—as she well did—the trouble between the houses,
and the widow stared in sheer amazement, for mountaineers do not talk
with strangers of the quarrels between them.
"I have nothin' to do with such as her," she said, sullenly; "she ain't
"Don't!" said the girl, with a flush, "she's dying."
"Yes." With the word the girl sprang from the mule and threw the reins
over the pale of the fence in front of the log-hut across the way. In
the doorway she turned as though she would speak to the woman on the
steps again, but a tall man with a black beard appeared in the low door
of the kitchen-shed.
"How is your—how is Mrs. Day?"
"Mighty puny this mornin'—Becky is."
The girl slipped into the dark room. On a disordered, pillowless bed lay
a white face with eyes closed and mouth slightly open. Near the bed was
a low wood fire. On the hearth were several thick cups filled with herbs
and heavy fluids and covered with tarpaulin, for Becky's "man" was a
teamster. With a few touches of the girl's quick hands, the covers of
the bed were smooth, and the woman's eyes rested on the girl's own
cloak. With her own handkerchief she brushed the death-damp from the
forehead that already seemed growing cold. At her first touch, the
woman's eyelids opened and dropped together again. Her lips moved, but
no sound came from them.
In a moment the ashes disappeared, the hearth was clean and the fire was
blazing. Every time the girl passed the window she saw the widow across
the way staring hard at the hut. When she took the ashes into the
street, the woman spoke to her.
"I can't go to see Becky—she hates me."
"With good reason."
The answer came with a clear sharpness that made the widow start and
redden angrily; but the girl walked straight to the gate, her eyes
ablaze with all the courage that the mountain woman knew and yet with
another courage to which the primitive creature was a stranger—a
courage that made the widow lower her own eyes and twist her hands under
"I want you to come and ask Becky to forgive you."
The woman stared and laughed.
"Forgive me? Becky forgive me? She wouldn't—an' I don't want her—" She
could not look up into the girl's eyes; but she pulled a pipe from under
the apron, laid it down with a trembling hand and began to rock
The girl leaned across the gate.
"Look at me!" she said, sharply. The woman raised her eyes, swerved
them once, and then in spite of herself, held them steady.
"Listen! Do you want a dying woman's curse?"
It was a straight thrust to the core of a superstitious heart and a
spasm of terror crossed the woman's face. She began to wring her hands.
"Come on!" said the girl, sternly, and turned, without looking back,
until she reached the door of the hut, where she beckoned and stood
waiting, while the woman started slowly and helplessly from the steps,
still wringing her hands. Inside, behind her, the wounded Marcum, who
had been listening, raised himself on one elbow and looked after her
through the window.
"She can't come in—not while I'm in here."
The girl turned quickly. It was Dave Day, the teamster, in the kitchen
door, and his face looked blacker than his beard.
"Oh!" she said, simply, as though hurt, and then with a dignity that
surprised her, the teamster turned and strode towards the back door.
"But I can git out, I reckon," he said, and he never looked at the widow
who had stopped, frightened, at the gate.
"Oh, I can't—I can't!" she said, and her voice broke; but the girl
gently pushed her to the door, where she stopped again, leaning against
the lintel. Across the way, the wounded Marcum, with a scowl of wonder,
crawled out of his bed and started painfully to the door. The girl saw
him and her heart beat fast.
Inside, Becky lay with closed eyes. She stirred uneasily, as though she
felt some hated presence, but her eyes stayed fast, for the presence of
Death in the room was stronger still.
"Becky!" At the broken cry, Becky's eyes flashed wide and fire broke
through the haze that had gathered in them.
"I want ye ter fergive me, Becky."
The eyes burned steadily for a long time. For two days she had not
spoken, but her voice came now, as though from the grave.
"You!" she said, and, again, with torturing scorn, "You!" And then she
smiled, for she knew why her enemy was there, and her hour of triumph
was come. The girl moved swiftly to the window—she could see the
wounded Marcum slowly crossing the street, pistol in hand.
"What'd I ever do to you?"
"Nothin', Becky, nothin'."
Becky laughed harshly. "You can tell the truth—can't ye—to a dyin'
"Fergive me, Becky!"
A scowling face, tortured with pain, was thrust into the window.
"Sh-h!" whispered the girl, imperiously, and the man lifted his heavy
eyes, dropped one elbow on the window-sill and waited.
"You tuk Jim from me!"
The widow covered her face with her hands, and the Marcum at the
window—brother to Jim, who was dead—lowered at her, listening keenly.
"An' you got him by lyin' 'bout me. You tuk him by lyin' 'bout
me—didn't ye? Didn't ye?" she repeated, fiercely, and her voice would
have wrung the truth from a stone.
"You hear?" cried Becky, turning her eyes to the girl.
"You made him believe an' made ever'body, you could, believe that I
was—was bad" Her breath got short, but the terrible arraignment went
"You started this war. My brother wouldn't 'a' shot Jim Marcum if it
hadn't been fer you. You killed Jim—your own husband—an' you killed
me. An' now you want me to fergive you—you!" She raised her right
hand as though with it she would hurl the curse behind her lips, and the
widow, with a cry, sprang for the bony fingers, catching them in her own
hand and falling over on her knees at the bedside.
"Don't, Becky, don't—don't—don't!"
There was a slight rustle at the back window. At the other, a pistol
flashed into sight and dropped again below the sill. Turning, the girl
saw Dave's bushy black head—he, too, with one elbow on the sill and the
other hand out of sight.
"Shame!" she said, looking from one to the other of the two men, who had
learned, at last, the bottom truth of the feud; and then she caught the
sick woman's other hand and spoke quickly.
"Hush, Becky," she said; and at the touch of her hand and the sound of
her voice, Becky looked confusedly at her and let her upraised hand sink
back to the bed. The widow stared swiftly from Jim's brother, at one
window, to Dave Day at the other, and hid her face on her arms.
"Remember, Becky—how can you expect forgiveness in another world,
unless you forgive in this?"
The woman's brow knitted and she lay quiet. Like the widow who held her
hand, the dying woman believed, with never the shadow of a doubt, that
somewhere above the stars, a living God reigned in a heaven of
never-ending happiness; that somewhere beneath the earth a personal
devil gloated over souls in eternal torture; that whether she went
above, or below, hung solely on her last hour of contrition; and that
in heaven or hell she would know those whom she might meet as surely as
she had known them on earth. By and by her face softened and she drew a
"Jim was a good man," she said. And then after a moment:
"An' I was a good woman"—she turned her eyes towards the girl—"until
Jim married her. I didn't keer after that." Then she got calm, and
while she spoke to the widow, she looked at the girl.
"Will you git up in church an' say before everybody that you knew I was
good when you said I was bad—that you lied about me?"
"Yes—yes." Still Becky looked at the girl, who stooped again.
"She will, Becky, I know she will. Won't you forgive her and leave peace
behind you? Dave and Jim's brother are here—make them shake hands.
Won't you—won't you?" she asked, turning from one to the other.
Both men were silent.
"Won't you?" she repeated, looking at Jim's brother.
"I've got nothin' agin Dave. I always thought that she"—he did not call
his brother's wife by name—"caused all this trouble. I've nothin' agin
The girl turned. "Won't you, Dave?"
"I'm waitin' to hear whut Becky says."
Becky was listening, though her eyes were closed. Her brows knitted
painfully. It was a hard compromise that she was asked to make i between
mortal hate and a love that was more than mortal, but the Plea that has
stood between them for nearly twenty centuries prevailed, and the girl
knew that the end of the feud was nigh.
"Yes, I fergive her, an' I want 'em to shake hands."
But not once did she turn her eyes to the woman whom she forgave, and
the hand that the widow held gave back no answering pressure. The faces
at the windows disappeared, and she motioned for the girl to take her
weeping enemy away.
She did not open her eyes when the girl came back, but her lips moved
and the girl bent above her.
"I know whar Jim is."
From somewhere outside came Dave's cough, and the dying woman turned her
head as though she were reminded of something she had quite forgotten.
Then, straightway, she forgot again.
The voice of the flood had deepened. A smile came to Becky's lips—a
faint, terrible smile of triumph. The girl bent low and, with a
startled face, shrank back.
With that whisper went Becky's last breath, but the smile was there,
even when her lips were cold.